“South Georgia will be remembered as journey’s end for a great British explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton; and that is enough to ensure it of a place in history”.
Duncan Carse (British explorer and actor)
In 1914 Ernest Shackleton, intent on completing the final conquest of Antarctica by crossing the continent from sea to sea, arrived at South Georgia and prepared for the trans-continental journey. He sought information from the whalers on the likely weather conditions, and despite their warnings of ice far north that season, set off with the crew of the Endurance on the 5 December 1914 towards the Weddell Sea.
The story of the Endurance expedition that unfolded is one of the great tales of polar history, and is central to the history of the island of South Georgia. The expedition never reached the starting point for the Antarctic crossing and they became frozen into pack ice at the southern edge of the Weddell Sea. In October 1915 the ship was crushed by the ice and the men had to abandon ship and live on the drifting ice. On 21st November the Endurance sank. The men tried to walk, dragging lifeboats and provisions with them, but it was too difficult so they set up Ocean Camp on an ice floe and drifted with the ice. In March 2016 they saw land for the first time and in April they finally made it ashore with the lifeboats landing on Elephant Island, north of the Antarctic Peninsula.
On 24th April 1916 Shackleton and five men set sail in the 23ft James Caird for South Georgia. The men survived the 800 mile journey across one of the roughest sea passages in the world, landing on the deserted southern shores of South Georgia. From there, Shackleton, Worsley and Crean made the difficult and treacherous journey on foot over the glaciated mountains covering 40 miles in 36 hours to reach Stromness Whaling Station.
It took many months and four attempts by a determined Shackleton to finally rescue the men on Elephant Island at the end of August 1916. Not a single life was lost during this extraordinary journey.
Shackleton returned to South Georgia in late 1921, again en route to Antarctica where he aimed to circumnavigate the continent. However, on January 5, 1922, he suffered a heart attack on his ship and died. He was buried in the whalers cemetary at Grytviken, South Georgia.
A book Shackleton at South Georgia (centenary edition) is available from our online charity shop. All profits from the sale of that book will be used to preserve Shackleton’s heritage on South Georgia. If sufficient funds are raised this will result in the restoration of the Manager’s House, the Villa, at Stromness whaling station where Shackleton and his two companions completed their journey to get help for their comrades in Elephant Island.
Shackleton’s birthplace was Athy in Ireland find out more at ShackletonMuseum.com here.